The supervisor is frustrated – in his mind, he has done everything right to manage his team to a successful outcome. He carefully explained the task at hand and its deadline for completion, how it was supposed to get done (and by whom), and outlined the expected results.
He has monitored the resulting team activity and provided useful feedback.
And yet, the outcome was less than what he expected. What went wrong?
It’s one of those situations that can drive leaders crazy. I know, because it’s happened to me.
There’s a missing element here, and it’s about a question that needs to be answered – even before anybody asks.
Look again at my example above. The supervisor had answered four questions for his team – “What?”, “When?“, “How?”, and “Who?”
What was missing was the answer to “Why?”
Put another way, it’s placing the desired result in the proper context for each team member, as well as explaining the importance of each person’s role in achieving that result.
In my experience I have found that it is well worth your time to sit down with your team and get those “Why” answers on the table, and make sure they are understood. You cannot assume that they know these answers – even if they don’t ask the questions.
Granted, this can be a time consuming exercise, especially when there are tight deadlines. There’s typically a strong temptation to just step on the accelerator and get the bus moving. But successful leaders must resist that temptation.
It’s really a matter of giving meaning to the work that each person does, which leads to happier, more motivated, and more productive teammates.
Here’s a specific example. A few years ago my company started tracking a customer service metric, based on specific customer feedback. When we first started we more or less just “put it out there”, explaining the mechanics of the metric, the way it was compiled and scored, and setting a company goal.
The metric performed reasonably well, but hit a plateau short of the goal. We eventually determined that the way to push it past this barrier was to spend a lot more time with our customer facing staff explaining the “whys”; why this measurement was important to the success of the company, and why their specific actions could make a difference in moving the number higher. We had these sessions multiple times over the course of a year.
Since that time, and with these “why” answers more clearly understood, our scores eventually exceeded our goal, and they continue to rise to greater heights to this day. And our employee satisfaction scores have also gone up.
So remember, don’t forget the “why” – and keep your sanity.